A few weeks ago, Manchester United’s 2-0 loss away to Olympiakos was the nadir in a horrendous season. Scrap that now. Losing 3-0 at home to Liverpool, of all teams, when it quite comfortably could have and should have been more, is United’s lowest point this season so far.
Everyone was accountable for another shocking display from the home side. Uninspired? Yes. Disinterested? Without question. You could even make a strong claim that professional pride has completely deserted most of these players considering that Liverpool were the team arriving at Old Trafford on Sunday and that even after shocking defeats and draws, of which some felt like losses, these players could have put some effort forward.
The manager looks to be sending out a team who have no interest in playing for him. David Moyes will try to tell a different story; he’s regularly peddled out the idea that the team (and he himself, of course) will try their best to win the next game. But this United team aren’t stagnating, they’re clearly getting worse.
Every win that United can muster, and there have been very, very few wholly convincing showings, is simply an opportunity for critics to reload their arms and allow others to add to the numbers.
Against Liverpool, Moyes was tactically naïve. In fairness, it’s a double-edged sword. For what seems like an age, Moyes has been criticised for playing it safe, going out defensively in big games with the aim of nicking something on the break. In the Premier League at the very least, Manchester United have never resorted to playing that way.
So what everyone had been calling out for had been offered up by the current United manager. He went full throttle with Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Adnan Januzaj, and Juan Mata. But does that say something about him? That he’s willing to give in to outside pressure in the way Ferguson would never have done?
It shouldn’t take a tactical genius to realise that a team playing against this Liverpool side are in need of players who are willing to track back and support their defence; how could they not when Brendan Rodgers’ side break with such pace?
Moyes wasn’t getting any of that from Mata, a player sold by Chelsea for exactly that reason. Januzaj was completely forgotten on the other flank, and you can forget about the idea of van Persie helping out defensively.
And as for the central midfield duo of Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini: the former had a poor game, like everyone else, and the latter doesn’t have the intelligence to break up play, nor does he compensate that with a ‘destroyer-like’ presence in the middle of the pitch.
ESPN have reported that Moyes’ position is starting to be discussed at board level. The knock-on effects of his performances as manager don’t just apply to football matters, but to the commercial side of the club too. Why would partners, some of the most well-known in the world, want to align themselves with a club facing such hardship? The football side of things is the club’s problem; these commercial partners, however, didn’t sign up for this.
It’s hard to stay committed to the idea that the club should retain Moyes until sometime next season, by which time he’ll have better tools via the market to implement his ideas and get the team back on track. As of yet, there have been no signs whatsoever that he has an idea of what to do. He himself admitted that the task of managing Manchester United is far greater and far more difficult than he expected.
This is still a football club who need to ensure they don’t get left behind by their counterparts in England and Europe. There isn’t really much time to be nice and attempt to hold together a principle of managerial stability when the man in charge looks anything but capable.
One of Moyes’ problems is he doesn’t have the ruthlessness of his predecessor, or managers like Jose Mourinho. The tactical setup of this United team is completely wrong – and it doesn’t require a plunge into the transfer market to change things for the better.
Rooney is on a huge new contract, so he has to play. Mata is a January signing who came in for one of the biggest transfer fees in English football, so he has to play – plus he’s their best midfielder. Van Persie is the club’s best striker, by a distance, and the need for goals in order to win games makes him an obvious choice in any starting XI.
But the balance isn’t right. Moyes won’t take the step of mixing things up, of leaving one out in order to create a better unit. Title-challenging teams talk of squads rather than just good XIs, but it doesn’t mean lumping them all in to the sacrifice of cohesion. Barcelona left Cesc Fabregas and Neymar on the bench on the weekend; Manchester City have three excellent centre-forwards, and yet Manuel Pellegrini, not commonly known as an aggressor, has found a good balance.
What is going on at Manchester United simply isn’t working. The senseless thing that has been done was giving Moyes a six-year contract. But paying him off for the remaining five is a lot better than going blindly into the night and hoping for the best.